How To Handle Impostor Syndrome
“Fake it ‘til you make it” is common advice. But what do you do when you make it? Do we ever really make it? And if you do, how do you live with yourself for faking it? This is what a lot of young women I work with remind me of when they opine about impostor syndrome.
Welcome to leadership.
Step 1: Sit With It
Let’s face it. Leaders take the collective brunt of everyone’s individual judgments, projections, and resentments of all flavors. Sound familiar? And they are not immune to mistakes or pain. Or feeling unworthy. What we don’t talk about is how they handle this pain.
What do these leaders have in common (ok, besides all being men)?
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Jack Welch
- Richard Branson
- Samuel L. Jackson
They all suffered from stuttering, speech hiccups, or tics while speaking. In fact, MLK got a “C” grade for oration while in Seminary. When asked how he overcame it, he simply said,
“Once I’d made my peace with death, I could make my peace with all else.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.
The impediment disappeared.
This is also the best solve I’ve come across for impostor syndrome: sit with it. Dare to lean into it. Sit at the table and invite every doubt, frustration, and reservation there too.
These feelings want to be acknowledged, not avoided…which, sadly based on my own experience, only strengthens them. Dwell with them for as long as you need to feel ok with them. And eventually not fear them. After all, FEAR stands for Future Events Already Ruined.
Step 2: Try To Judge Others Less
I’m a casual royal follower and amazed at how the media still follows every breath Meghan Markle takes for a headline. People love her or hate her. And these attitudes echo how we feel about leadership in our own organizations.
When people don’t know your whole story except for the seemingly overnight promotion, it’s only human to make assumptions. We hope that these are positive, but just glancing through a tabloid can show you how our reptile brains thrive on others’ misfortune more. Envy is real. It’s ugly. And it affects us all.
So over time, I have practiced withholding judgment good and bad. It’s hard. But also hard won through various experiences with people (at all stages in their careers) surprising me in both directions. For example, an amazing interview that led to a regrettable hire. Or a sully co-worker that became a great confidante.
By withholding judgement, we leave space for others to be who they are: warts and all. And more importantly, I’ve found it leaves space for us to not be ashamed about our own warts.
“It’s always the ones who know the least about you who judge you the most.”-Anonymous
In other words, if you struggle with impostor syndrome, think about who you think doesn’t deserve what they have or how they live. Maybe, just maybe, give them the benefit of the doubt. And that may relieve the pressure of thinking of yourself as an impostor too.
Step 3: Share What’s On Your Mind
This one may come as no surprise. I think it’s imperative to share this syndrome with trusted friends and mentors. It’s why I built a small but mighty network of mentors (mostly women) available to you at the click of a button.
People who’ve been in the same industry before can give you a reality check as to what you’re feeling. Chances are it’s totally normal and not as scary as you may think.
Because you are never an impostor in your own life.